Touching our libraries gives us as Magic players the opportunity to increase our chances of winning a particular game. Making strong choices while touching our libraries gives us even greater chances, while making poor choices increases our chances of winning by smaller amounts (or can even leak value!).
In today's plays with Reid Duke's UW deck we examine some common sorts of scenarios with two of the most popular and powerful methods for drawing extra cards: Dig Through Time and Dragonlord Ojutai.
For reference, Reid Duke's UW
This week I brought back Brian Weissman as Celebrity Guest. I mean who else would you rather have guiding your ability to navigate the turbulent skies of blue and white and drawing cards than the man who invented the UW Control deck, or the idea that drawing more cards than the opponent is a good way to get ahead?
"Mike makes an excellent point in the intro to this article. When you play Magic, you should, at every stage of the game, be looking to eke out some sort of advantage through good decision making. Sometimes the decisions you make are big and impactful. Sometimes they are very subtle. Both types of decisions matter equally though, they will determine what fundamentally makes you a good player.
"So how do you know what constitutes a good decision anyway? There is no set rule of course, the game has way too many variables. However, I'll take a stab at a mantra:
'Make the decision that offers the most present and future value combined.'
"One thing I've told people over the years, regarding my own ability to make tough decisions in Magic, is that I don't feel the fundamental "muscle" of my brain has weakened. What has weakened is the speed with which I make my decisions, a natural consequence of playing less Magic. When you do something 100 hours a week for years and years, you become so attuned to it that the decisions are almost automatic. I'm pretty far removed from that reality, but fortunately I have all the time in the world to craft my decisions here. Such is the advantage of Make the Play Monday.
"Since Mike's so fond of Magic anecdotes to make a point, I'll briefly describe a tough decision I had to make just a few days ago during a paper game of EDH. I was playing my monoblack Skithiryx control deck against a really tough Mimeoplasm-based reanimator. On my turn, I had just attacked with my dragon for the first four points of poison, and followed up the attack with a Praetor's Grasp.
"I immediately knew which card to take from the opposing deck, but when I cast my opponent's Demonic Tutor, I faced a difficult choice. I had five mana available still, thanks to Mana Vault. He was holding five cards, with an untapped Command Tower and Survival of the Fittest in play. The decision of what to fetch would likely decide the game.
"After a full minute of thought, I had it down to Necropotence and Mind Twist. Thinking it over one last time, I finally slid the sorcery into my hand and shuffled.
"I reasoned that I could Remove most of his hand, so that even if I left him with a creature, he wouldn't have a reanimation spell to wreck me with. He only had four mana in play, so I didn't have to worry about Mimeoplasm. I figured the Mind Twist would cripple him enough that I could just cruise to victory with Skithiryx.
"Necropotence promised a dominating future, but I was more interested in putting the game away in the present. Also, since my opponent held five cards in hand with active Survival, it was nearly guaranteed I'd be facing a Jin-Gitaxias at the end of his next turn. Necro has a rather unhealthy relationship with that card.
"Mind Twist for four did take some good stuff, but it unfortunately still left him with a creature in hand. At my eot, he tossed a Woodfall Primus into the graveyard, then fetched up a perfect silver bullet in Gilded Drake!
"The Drake forced me to cast Damnation, and on the subsequent turn, when I recast my Skithiryx without haste, he Survivaled Jin and another fattie into the graveyard, then copied them up with Mimeoplasm. I had a one turn window to topdeck Liliana of the Dark Realms or Demonic Tutor for lethal, but it wasn't to be.
"I'm now positive that the Mind Twist was the wrong choice, because Necropotence would have all but assured I could deal with whatever he did going forward. Even if he gets Jin out, it doesn't answer the Skithiryx immediately, and I can probably cement the win on my next turn with the 25 or more cards I've drawn. Ultimately, I lost this game because I violated my own mantra. I placed too much value on the present, without considering the future.
"Let's see if I can make a better decision this time around. On to Mike's two scenarios!"
Scenario One - Dig Through Time
Here our Dig Through Time shows us...
1. Dig Through Time2. Dig Through Time3. Dissolve4. Silumgar's Scorn5. Radiant Fountain6. Temple of Enlightenment7. Tranquil Cove
...I took Dig Through Time and Dissolve.
Mike's Choice: Dig Through Time and Dissolve
This Dig Through Time is showing us a split between 1) more copies of Dig Through Time, 2) a couple of [potential] permission spells, and 3) three lands. The lands are all interesting in that they do cool triggered things when they enter the battlefield. In some contexts Temple of Enlightenment would be the most powerful of the three, but not in the current position, I don't think. If I were in the market for a land, it would be Radiant Fountain. The permission spells are interesting - one of them is yet another Silumgar's Scorn (we already have two) - none of which have much text in this context.
So one extremely tempting combination would be Dig Through Time and Radiant Fountain. After all, we have Elspeth, Sun's Champion and two permission spells already in hand. Radiant Fountain would afford us a sixth [untapped] land that would allow us to cast Elspeth, Sun's Champion next turn. We would then presumably make three Soldier Tokens and be on our way winning the game with a long-term Elspeth advantage.
Three soldiers (and then three soldiers, and then three more soldiers, ad infinitum) would make life difficult for Brimaz, King of Oreskos. We could keep blocking Brimaz, and also block one of his 1/1 cat-cohorts, eventually getting ahead.
That sounds all great!
If that sounds all great...why not do it?
I just don't want to prioritize a land here. The reason is this: The opponent has five cards in hand and three untapped lands; one of the cards he has already in play is Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. The opponent's position passing into our Dig Through Time positively screams "I have a Hero's Downfall!"
I have no interest in playing into the Hero's Downfall. Well, I'm going to have to play into Hero's Downfall, but maybe I don't have to split my Dig Through Time into it. Brimaz is a mighty threat, but I think I have some time right now.
The reality is that this first Dig Through Time did not give us any way to handle the deficit we already have on the battlefield. We are going to have to play Elspeth in the next available window...and she will probably die.
Given Elspeth's impending mortality (as I have already decided what is going to happen in the near future), I figure that Dissolve is the best pair to Dig Through Time. We want to keep him from getting any further ahead than he already is (and a hard counter that can affect the top of our deck is one way to do that). The Silumgar's Scorns in our hand are actually way less powerful than they might be in other contexts, being more Force Spikes than Counterspells in the absence of anything with scales and wings. Dig Through Time might make for our best destiny and I'd look forward to casting it to find Dragonlord Ojutai, a backup Elspeth, Sun's Champion, or some other way to control the floor. Like I said, I think we have a little time, and if I draw into land I'm going to play Elspeth, Sun's Champion anyway.
"Looking at the first game state, the first thing I wonder is: why am I using four copies of Silumgar's Scorn? I guess it's just a testament to how bad Counterspells have become that this card is a four-of in a deck with only four enablers. It's only fitting that I've drawn three copies of the card already, with a fourth one in my Dig Through Time Pile. I'm 100% sure I'm not interested in that last copy, sheesh.
"So what am I interested in anyway? Currently, I have five lands, with both UU and WW available. I face an immediate threat in the form of his Brimaz, with possible things like Stormbreath Dragon and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker arriving to Vex me on the following turns. I'm not in a completely happy place, but it could be a lot worse.
"Brimaz is a growing threat though, so it needs to be answered immediately. Fortunately, I'm already holding a quasi-answer to the card, in the form of Elspeth. Elspeth won't kill Brimaz outright of course, but it'll make blocking it trivial. Elspeth also deals with the other token generators he's likely playing in his midrange Mardu deck.
"I need to deploy Elspeth immediately, so the choice to take at least one of these cards is automatic. I have to take the only land that comes into play untapped, the Radiant Fountain. With that out of the way, the question remains: what's the card I take along with it?
"I've already ruled out Silumgar's Scorn, that's a no brainer. Neither the Tranquil Cove nor the Temple deal with future threats, so they're also going to the bottom. That leaves a choice between a Dig Through Time or a Dissolve. Without a moment's Hesitation, I take the following two cards into my hand:
"Radiant Fountain and Dig Through Time.
"This choice solves the most problems, both present and future. The Elspeth immediately answers both Brimaz and the token, while potentially challenging many of the other cards in my opponent's deck. If he's able to follow up my tap-out play with something like Sarkhan or Stormbreath Dragon, I have a redraw at another seven cards, thanks to the graveyard and six mana available. If I take the Dissolve and he has nothing important on his next turn, I'm looking good. However, so many potential cards punish my tap-out-to-Elspeth play that I can't rely on a counter being useful in the immediate future."
Brian Weissman's Choice: Radiant Fountain and Dig Through Time
Scenario Two - Dragonlord Ojutai
In this scenario we are essentially in topdeck mode, with neither player having any cards in hand.
With our opponent at a pretty big disadvantage on the battlefield, our mighty Dragonlord Ojutai trucks in revealing:
1. Dig Through Time2. Silumgar's Scorn3. Valorous Stance
There is some argument that you just can't go wrong here.
All three cards are potentially relevant, and the blue ones are both spectacular. Of the three Valorous Stance is probably the least attractive, but even it has some good text. The question is really between Dig Through Time and Silumgar's Scorn.
If I were playing my Five-Color / Monoblue Dragons deck in a similar spot to this, I would very tempted to take Silumgar's Scorn. That deck is kind of a poor Dig Through Time deck, but longer on threats. Even here, Silumgar's Scorn is a defensible choice.
The opponent has no cards in hand. If he draws the absolute best card in his deck (unless it's Genesis Hydra, I suppose) the Silumgar's Scorn can handle it; then we draw another card, and Ojutai can draw yet another card (giving us a similar scenario, and giving us the opportunity to make a good decision). Of course Silumgar's Scorn can handle a wide range of threats, and its best destiny will often be to sit in hand, doing nothing. I'd counter, say, a Whisperwood Elemental, but let him have an Elvish Mystic.
But you know what I'm not taking? Silumgar's Scorn!
Like I said, that card is a pretty defensible choice here. But we have an absolute ton of mana! There is little-to-no reason to not take Dig Through Time and cast it immediately in my mind. If one Silumgar's Scorn is good, two would be really good!
We certainly can't guarantee that a Dig Through Time will give us two Silumgar's Scorns (especially since we are about to push one to the bottom of our deck) but we're probably going to get something good, and the fact remains: we're the ones with Dragonlord Ojutai in play, and he's going to be the one with [still] no cards in hand.
Mike's Choice: Dig Through Time
Some readers have noted we are tight on time. I personally consciously played the scenario in the real game as if I were not tight on time (i.e. the best play in the abstract rather than a play to save a few seconds). Brian and I chatted about this and he used the same model.
"I really like the board state that's laid out here because it's an opportunity to apply something I call 'Instinct Math.' Remember what I said above about how your mind gets attuned to something you spend obsessive hours practicing? 'Instinct Math' is my own term for the ability to calculate approximate odds based on pure experience and intuition. Good Magic players use this all the time to arrive at quick, correct decisions. They simply know that a choice is right.
"The moment I looked at this scenario, and did a count of how many cards I've seen from my deck, my instinct math skills delivered the answer of what card to take:
"I snap pick the Dig Through Time.
"Now, with that done, I'll take a quick check on the actual math to see if the decision made sense.
"So far, I've seen a total of four of my eight Counterspells. I've also seen two of my Digs Through Time. I'm 36 cards into my deck, so 24 remain. Six of those are better than or equal to the revealed hard counter ( Silumgar's Scorn).
"If I take Dig Through Time, I'm going to be looking at nearly 30% of my remaining cards for just two mana. To come out ahead of just keeping the Silumgar's Scorn, I only need one of the top seven to be a copy of either Dissolve, Scorn or another Dig Through Time. Each card I reveal has a roughly 25% chance of being perfect, so that means that each has a 75% chance of being non-ideal.
"Since each of my seven reveals has a roughly 75% chance of "failure", the odds that I completely whiff on the Dig Through Time are just over 13%. That doesn't even account for the fact that each bad card revealed increases the chances of the next one being ideal. With that in mind, the odds of whiffing are likely less than 10%.
"I only need three more hits with Dragonlord Ojutai to wrap up the game, so it's quite possible the single Silumgar's Scorn will carry me to victory. After all, I'm guaranteed to stop the next relevant thing my opponent does, and I could easily reveal another counter the next time I attack. However, in this case, I feel the odds of bricking the Dig Through Time are acceptably low enough to make the greedy play. Choosing the big powerful instant is the best choice for insuring a successful present and a dominant future.
"Thanks for reading my thoughts on these two scenarios, I look forward to next time!"
Brian Weissman's Choice: Dig Through Time
Brian and I were pretty close on choices this week (which always makes me grin); though we split on the first scenario, I at least considered his choice...I was just a bit more cynical. How did you all pick?
For choosing with me, Daniel Miller topdecks a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate. You got the first scenario correct, and you got the second correct in spirit!
For making the same choices as Celebrity Guest Brian Weissman, David Kennedy also draws himself into a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate.
Congrats Daniel and David! May these choices lead to more and more good choices! Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prize!
Brian Weissman is one of the legendary figures of Magic: The Gathering. In addition to his status as a two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor, Weissman is a master deck designer, Type I (Vintage) expert, and the godfather of both the UW Control archetype and the very concept of card advantage. Today Brian is an award winning designer at Grinding Gear Games (2013 Gamespot Game of the Year); but continues to play Magic, presently focusing on online Commander. Do yourself a favor and check out Brian's Magic YouTube channel.